Three things to try when life feels overwhelming

November 23, 2016 | By More

by Lisa Healy

ACT Therapist at Evidence Based Therapy Centre


It’s a familiar tale – you’re doing your best to keep on top of things, and then suddenly you notice that everything is on top of you instead.

Many of us will have some experience of feeling like we aren’t coping as well as we would like with the challenges of our day to day life. Our minds can be quick to tell us that we aren’t good enough or that we aren’t doing enough, even when we are diligently doing our best. This can be especially true for us when we start to make personally significant changes to our routines or move outside of our comfort zone to try things that challenge us in meaningful ways.

When you notice that you are starting to feel overwhelmed, trying one or more of these things could help to restore your sense of balance and purpose.

See (Hear and Feel) Sense


Feeling like you are spending more time struggling with your unhelpful thoughts than you are doing the things that actually matter? When you are feeling really tied up by your thoughts, it can be helpful to slow down and bring your attention back to your five senses – sight, hearing, touch, taste, and smell. Connecting with the world around you can give you enough distance from your thoughts to allow you to make values-led choices.

When your mind is racing, take a minute wherever you are, and see if you can notice three things you can see around you. Need more of a challenge? Why not see if you can notice three of a particular category of things, or three things of the same colour?

Next, bring your attention to three things you can hear around you. If you are in a quiet place, maybe there is the sound of distant traffic, maybe the weather outside, or perhaps there are gentle sounds of your own movement or breath. If where you are is very noisy and chaotic, maybe you can use your attention to isolate three sounds from all of the noise.

The largest organ in your body is responsible for your sense of touch – your skin! See if you can notice three things that you can feel on your skin. Maybe you can feel your collar in contact with your neck. Maybe you will be able to notice the points on your legs and back where you are supported by your chair. Maybe you will notice, if you narrow your attention, that places where your skin comes into contact with the air around you. See if you can identify whether the sensation is cool or warm.

Depending on where you are and how appropriate it would be, you could go through the exercise with your remaining senses of taste and smell. If you notice your attention drifting back to your thoughts, see if you can gently return to noticing your sensory experience, starting from the beginning again if that feels right for you.

A Journey of a Thousand Miles….


It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when you start moving towards the things that truly matter to you. When you decide to start something that is important to you, or you want to nourish a relationship in your life, it can feel difficult to know where to start. Our minds can quickly begin to pipe up with not-so-helpful thoughts like “you’re not good enough”, “you can’t do it”, or “you’re already too busy as it is”.

If you find yourself locked in the struggle with your thoughts instead of moving towards who and what matters, it may be helpful to scale things back. See if you can identify the smallest step you can take that would bring you closer to who you want to be.

When we start to make changes in our lives, we often think of big things. For example, you might decide to commit to doing a 5km run to move towards better health, but then feel daunted at the idea of starting to train. For some of us, it can be more manageable to break things down to the smallest steps that still bring us in contact with our values. Maybe for some of us, a manageable first step can be agreeing to go out for a short walk with a friend on our lunch break, or for others it might be downloading a training plan or setting out our gym clothes the night before so our morning runs more smoothly.

What’s important is only that whatever small step you choose is moving you towards the things that add value to your life. Still feeling overwhelmed? See if you can choose to do something even smaller!

Be Self Care Aware


You’re busy taking steps towards the things that matter, including bold moves outside of your comfort zone that represent the life that you would choose for yourself. In fact, you’re so busy that you’re starting to feel a little fed up or even burnt out. Your mind is giving you the old familiar line: “I knew this was going to be too hard, I might as well just give up!”

When we take the time to give serious consideration to the things that add value to our lives, self-care may be one of the things that flies under our radar. It’s easy to see why; it can feel much more natural for us to acknowledge the importance of other relationships in our lives than it is to acknowledge the importance of our relationship with ourselves. When we set out on the road to a life of meaning and vitality, taking the time to reflect on how to look after ourselves as we go forward can be a significant step in that direction.

Connecting with the present moment can include connecting to the signals your body is sending to you. When you notice that things are starting to feel a bit too much, try slowing down and checking in with how you are, right now. It can help to take a moment to pause and ask yourself “in this moment, what is it that I need?” See if you can bring your attention to the places in your body where emotion shows up for you. If this feeling was a message to you in that moment, what would that message be?

Beware of rules your mind can set that add an all-or-nothing quality to doing what matters. Maybe in this moment, having a cup of tea and putting your feet up is exactly the thing the person you want to be would do. When the next moment comes along, maybe that moment can be about making a contribution in work. Allowing yourself to choose your actions moment to moment guided by your values, and allowing your own needs to take the stage when making those decisions, could help to add a sense of freedom and energy in your daily life.

Keep in mind, you are the person in the best position to notice whether your actions are consistent with the life you want to live, and you are the only person who can decide what sort of life that should be.


Feeling like you need a little help to get you moving towards the life you want? Maybe you could consider making an appointment with our ACT therapist Lisa to explore how your relationship with your thoughts and feelings could improve your ability to move in the direction of the things that truly make a difference in your life. If you would like to book an appointment please call Evidence-Based Therapy Centre on 091-727777 or get in touch via the contact page.

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